Monday, April 6, 2020, 09:03

With Zimbabwe’s health-care sector crippled by a strike by doctors and nurses, underfunding and years of general neglect, fears are growing that Covid-19 will hit the troubled country very hard.

Already, the disease — confirmed in the country just two weeks ago — has claimed its first victim: Zimbabwean broadcaster Zororo Makamba. At the time of publication, the number of confirmed cases had reached eight, from 233 tests.

Zimbabwe’s health-care sector is, indeed, a mess. It was paralysed for more than four months last year when doctors and nurses went on strike over wages. They only returned to work in January, after Zimbabwean billionaire Strive Masiyiwa set up a fund to cover subsistence and transport costs. The telecoms tycoon stepped in again to head off a strike this week, offering financial incentives, insurance and protective clothing to safeguard medical workers from the coronavirus.

Drugs are in short supply, and depleted state coffers mean the government is unable to buy supplies for state medical facilities.

The shambolic state of the country’s health-care system was captured in a report by UN human rights expert Hilal Elver, who visited Zimbabwe in November. She found that patients often travel 200km north of Harare to mission hospitals such as Karanda to seek health care.

ON 30TH MARCH 2020 - President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared a 21-day “total” lockdown curtailing movement within the country, shutting most shops and suspending flights in and out of Zimbabwe Police mounted checkpoints on routes leading to Harare's central business district, stopping cars and turning away pedestrians who had no authorisation to be in the area. Elsewhere truckloads of metropolitan and national police armed with batons were on patrol, ordering people back to their homes.

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